Friday, July 24, 2009

The Digital Reflector – the solution to dark faces on bright backgrounds

It happens to us all – we are out with friends or family and we simply want to take a memento shot to remember the occasion. As a result, we end up taking lots of shots during the harsh mid-day sun and usually with the sun at the back of our subject. The net result is that we either properly expose our subject and have a blown out overexposed background, or we more typically end up with a properly exposed background with a dark face as is the case in the photo below:

Sure, you can see the subjects face (if you are lucky – sometimes they end up being unintentional silhouettes), but it sure is a lot darker than you hoped.

The Easy Fix

The correct fix for this would have been to carry a reflector and have it set up so that light bounces up on the face of the subject (or use a fill flash if you are close enough). A reflector sometimes requires an assistant and it isn’t always practical on a situation like this where I was having a fun hike with my in-laws at Mt. Rainier. The good news is that there is a super easy fix using Nik Software’s Color Efex 3.0 Complete either in Lightroom or Photoshop (it works with both products).

The fix is the Reflector effect which when combined with the awesome U-Point technology results in a brilliant fix in less than a minute. Here’s a corrected version:

Notice the improvement? You can easily control how much of the foreground is enhanced (i.e., just the face, the face and the shirt, the log, etc….) using the simple to use U-Point controls and you don’t need to spend a lot of time doing complex masking tricks. The best part is that the results are very good, and you have complete control over the direction of the light, the color of the light, the intensity of the light, the opacity of the effect, etc… I LOVE this effect and find myself using it all of the time!

The Video

I don’t usually do videos, but this is one case where I felt I had to because it is so important to demonstrate just how easy this effect is to replicate. Here’s a sample before picture:

It isn’t bad, but a little darker than I’d like. Here’s the corrected version (exaggerated a bit to make sure you can see the difference):

and here’s a quick video that brings it home (be sure to view in full screen):

In this video (no audio), I demonstrate how the Reflector effect works in Nik Software's Color Efex 3.0. While the video is shown using Adobe Lightroom 2.4, a near identical user-interface exists in Photoshop so the same concepts apply.

Here's what I do in the video:

  1. Export the image for editing (with current Lightroom edits) to the Nik Software Color Efex 3.0 for Adobe Lightroom plug-in. This creates a TIF file (other options available) for modification. Alternatively, I could have chosen the filter in Photoshop and had the effect simply added as a new layer in my PSD file.
  2. I select the reflector filter and then I click around to show the effects of the options available.
  3. I show how putting a negative control point removes the effect (which is what I don't want), I show how to delete a control point, and then I show how to add a control point to limit the scope of my change JUST to the man's face. This is powerful because I do this quickly and easily without using complex or time consuming masking techniques.
  4. After getting the results I like, I saved the changes and they are automatically updated in Lightroom.

As you can see from the video, it takes only a minute and the results are very close to what you'd get if you had a real gold, silver or silver/gold mix reflector with you.


I hope you see just how easy this feature is to use (anyone can do it). The ability to save shots like these and not haul more gear on my hikes makes Color Efex a no brainer purchase for me. You can try it out on their web site for free and see if you agree. If you do, you can purchase it at a 15% discount (including the Complete Collection which contains all of their products) just by using the Discount Coupon Code on my blog.

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